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Braun has uncharacteristic finish to career at NDSU

SPOKANE, Wash. — The last two games of his North Dakota State basketball career were not Taylor Braun-like — and the Bison senior was the first to say that following the 63-44 loss to San Diego State on Saturday night.

It sent San Diego State to the NCAA Division I men’s basketball tournament Sweet 16. On the flipside, it ended the career of one of the greatest players in Bison history in Braun.

The reigning Summit League Player of the Year found the going tougher against the bigger and longer Aztecs, who held him to 2 of 14 shooting and seven points.

“They’re a good defensive team,” Braun said. “But for me personally, I felt like I missed a bunch of shots that I normally knock down, and that was kind of the same story for me on Thursday.”

He was 3 of 11 in the second-round win over Oklahoma. Against San Diego State, Braun hit his first attempt of the game, but would not see that happen again until there was 12 minutes, 10 seconds remaining. He was 1 of 10 from the field in the first half, and the Aztecs took a 30-23 lead.

“That’s disappointing for me, just being on this stage and not being able to perform like I know I’m capable of,” Braun said.

The Aztecs were stingy in allowing the 6-foot-7 Braun any room to the basket, using their taller frames and quick feet to their advantage. NDSU head coach Saul Phillips said it’s impossible to imitate that kind of athleticism in practice, joking that maybe he could tape a pair of eight-foot 2-by-4s to the arms of 5-8 backup guard Fred Newell.

Facing a team like SDSU is just not something Braun was used to, Phillips said.

“You saw it. He went up for shots that he normally does — and he had to lean just a little bit more,” Phillips said. “You know what? He’ll learn to play against length like that because he’s going to get a chance to. But it’s really, really hard when you get a chance only so often to do it.”

Phillips has said he believes Braun will get a chance at professional basketball at some level, including the NBA.

“They did an unbelievable job on him,” he said. “I know he’s disappointed in himself, but he’s got nothing to be ashamed of. Without that kid, we’re not even close to this point.”

Braun came into the game averaging 18.2 points, shooting 49 percent on the season.

“He was the player of the year in their conference averaging 18 points,” said Aztecs forward Dwayne Polee, “so we really made an emphasis to kind of cut his water off, and I think it was a team effort and we did just that.”

Braun’s basket in the second half got NDSU within 42-34. It was still a seven-point game with less than six minutes remaining, but there would be no heroics like the last three minutes Braun turned in the Summit League title game against Indiana Purdue-Fort Wayne.

“You don’t want to go out like this,” Braun said. “I’m 2-for-14 in my last college game? I don’t know. I just didn’t play well this weekend.”